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Can American Values Survive in a Chinese World?

Can American Values Survive in a Chinese World? thumbnail

The People’s Republic of China bounds from strength to strength. Every year sees increases in its wealth and power relative to the world. But what do its leaders hope to achieve with their newfound clout?

China’s Vision of Victory, Jonathan D.T. Ward, Atlas Publishing, 316 pp., $25, March 2019

This is the topic of Jonathan D.T. Ward’s China’s Vision of Victory. Ward is ideally placed to write such a book, boasting a doctorate from Oxford University in Chinese politics, a résumé that has led him across the Asian continent, and a political consultancy that he operates from Washington. His answer to the question “What does China want?” is simple: The Chinese want supremacy.

China’s Vision of Victory is a useful antidote to the popular delusion that Chinese leaders seek nothing more than to roll back U.S. hegemony in the Western Pacific—or that they will be sated by becoming the dominant East Asian power. Despite presenting modest and peaceful ambitions to foreigners, the Chinese Communist Party leadership transparently communicates its desire for primacy to internal audiences. By guiding readers through a barrage of official documents, excerpted liberally throughout the book, Ward shows just how wide-ranging these ambitions are.

To start with, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) already defines its maritime forces as a “two-ocean navy.” Chinese energy demands have led the PLA to extend its reach to Pakistan, Africa, and the disputed waters of the South China Sea. White papers spell out Chinese ambitions to be the primary strategic presence not just on the East Asian periphery but in Africa, the Indian Ocean, and the Southern Pacific. China’s leadership claims that it has core economic interests as far abroad as Europe, Latin America, the Arctic, and outer space. With these economic interests come road maps for securing Chinese relationships or presence in each region.

By 2050, the Chinese aim to have a military “second to none,” to become the global center for technology innovation, and to serve as the economic anchor of a truly global trade and infrastructure regime—an economic bloc that would be unprecedented in human history. In their speeches and documents, Chinese leaders call this vision of a China-centered future—a future where a U.S.-led system has been broken apart and discarded—a “community of common destiny for mankind.” That ambition debunks the myth of a multipolar future: China seeks dominance, not just a share of the pie.

Ward traces the Chinese desire to shape the future of all mankind (not just the East Asian part of it) to a national myth taught to schoolchildren across China. According to this narrative, China was once the center of the world; China was the mother of invention, the seat of global wealth, and the beacon of civilization. This is China’s natural role in the world order—a role disrupted by the “century of humiliation” between the Opium Wars and World War II, when China suffered at the hands of foreign powers. But now that age of suffering is over. China’s destiny, according to its leaders, is to reclaim its natural perch as the leading force of human civilization.

This is a familiar narrative to China specialists and one well-suited to a Communist clique that wishes to leverage nationalism to maintain its hold on power. However, Ward repeatedly stresses the popularity of this “national rejuvenation” ideal outside of party circles. “[T]he Chinese public has come to embrace this sense of destiny,” he writes. “But this vision is not the Communist Party’s alone. It is the vision at the heart of China’s restoration—a cause to which numerous Chinese citizens and patriots have devoted their lives—and of which the Communist Party is only one expression.”

But problems with the book emerge. Ward’s conviction that the Communist Party is not the driving force behind China’s foreign-policy priorities leads him to sources that weaken his argument.

Ward’s conviction that the Communist Party is not the driving force behind China’s foreign-policy priorities leads him to sources that weaken his argument.

Ward peppers the book with conversations he has had with Shanghai street sellers and Qinghai truck drivers. He supplements these anecdotes with translations from Chinese books and think tank reports that support his broader characterization of the Chinese people.

But China is vast. Look hard enough, and you will eventually find a Chinese person willing to say anything you need him or her to. Ward has no way to prove he has not cherry-picked. A similar problem plagues a section of the book devoted to China’s premodern “tributary system,” in which subordinate states like Korea made regular payments in return for protection, with the questionable assumption that Ming and Qing diplomacy gives us a clear idea of Chinese intentions. Ward relies on a model of the tributary system first developed in the 1940s. This model has been rejected almost entirely by historians who study the issue today. And while Ward is welcome to argue that the current historical consensus is wrong, the critical issue is not what Western historians believe about premodern Chinese statecraft but what the minds in Zhongnanhai, where the Communist Party leadership resides, believe about the country’s past and its relevance to China’s future. On this, Ward has nothing to report.

Here, as elsewhere, the further Ward travels away from the official statements, white papers, laws, and pronouncements of the Communist Party, the more he opens himself up to easy attacks by critics unprepared to face the reality these official documents lay out.

There is, however, a more serious problem in viewing the challenge posed by China’s growing power in purely national terms. The implicit question posed throughout Ward’s book is whether the United States should acquiesce to China’s vision of victory. Can Americans live in a world where the Chinese possess the largest economy, greatest industrial base, most powerful military, and the leading centers of technological and scientific innovation?

Can Americans live in a world where the Chinese possess the largest economy, greatest industrial base, most powerful military, and the leading centers of technological and scientific innovation?

Technically, yes. The United States is a nuclear-armed state with no near enemies. It is flanked by two vast oceans and directly controls the approaches to the North American continent. It is endowed with an enormous population with net positive migration. In times of crisis, the United States can rely entirely on internal resources to keep its population fed, clothed, and warm. No other nation has been dealt such an enviable hand. Even a China that militarily or economically dominates Eurasia, Africa, and Latin America would not pose a credible geopolitical threat to the U.S. homeland. For many Americans, quietly ceding victory to the Chinese would be an acceptable cost for averting decades of nuclear brinkmanship.

But this logic has its own problems. It dodges a deciding source of tension in the Sino-American relationship. Communist Party leaders believe they are locked in what Chinese President Xi Jinping has called “fierce competition … in the ideological sphere” with the West. They assert that this ideological competition threatens the existence of their party and imperils the road to national rejuvenation. They describe historians, researchers, dissidents, and Chinese-language media outlets in countries like Australia, Germany, and the United States as dangers equal to anything U.S. Indo-Pacific Command can throw at them. This is the root motivation behind what are now being called “interference” and “influence” operations in Western countries.

This is a blind spot in Ward’s analysis. The term “United Front” (the party’s favored moniker for institutions that co-opt or turn people to serve the party’s objectives) does not appear in China’s Vision of Victory. “Influence operations” shows up just twice, with the gloss that these operations are “meant to distort a country’s discourse on China and to constrain action against Beijing.” Framing these operations purely in geopolitical terms misstates the challenge they pose. These operations are not just about shaping the opinions of foreign-policy elites but about controlling and coercing enemies of the Communist regime who live outside China’s borders.

These operations are not just about shaping the opinions of foreign-policy elites but about controlling and coercing enemies of the Communist regime who live outside China’s borders.

They are part of the same effort that has led to ever tightening censorship; sweeping crackdowns on Chinese law firms, media outlets, and religious organizations; and sent a million-plus Uighurs to detention centers inside China.

So-called influence operations are aimed at the enemies China’s leaders fear most: the ones who pose an ideological, not a geopolitical, threat to the Communist Party. These are the hostile forces that threaten the stability of the Communist regime, and many of them—from Christians and Uighurs fleeing religious persecution to Taiwanese, Hong Kongers, and others of Chinese descent who dare imagine different futures for their people—live in America. As long as these groups can safely assemble and freely speak within the United States, America will be seen as a threat to the Chinese party-state. Similar fears have already led Beijing to demand ideological fealty from its foreign debtors. China’s leaders do not ask clients to change their system of government but to squelch criticism of Chinese communism inside their borders. Thus, the leaders of Muslim-majority countries pretend that their faith is not being crushed in Xinjiang, and the Thai government turns a blind eye to Chinese security kidnapping dissidents inside its borders. The Chinese leadership does not compel the same behavior from the United States only because it lacks the power to do so.

Accommodating the geopolitical ambitions of the Chinese people is comparatively easy. Easing the ideological insecurities of the Communist elite would demand far more drastic changes to U.S. politics and society.

Ward asks readers if they are willing to live in a world where China is the supreme economic and military power. It is a fine query, but the hardest question may be whether we are willing to live in a world where dominant economic and military power is wielded by an insecure regime whose leaders believe that the same authoritarian techniques used to control enemies within their society must be used to surveil, coerce, and corrupt those enemies outside it. American values might not survive a world where the possessors of such power view U.S. institutions and civil society as a destabilizing threat. China’s Vision of Victory asks readers to consider the ambitions of the Chinese elite. To craft sound policy, however, we would be wise to pay just as much attention to their fears.


77 Comments on "Can American Values Survive in a Chinese World?"

  1. Robert Inget on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 11:42 am 

    Oh, I would say a few million more earthlings
    have stronger opinions around Climate Disruption
    post Japan’s disastrous typhoon.

    Getting more difficult for climate deniers every day. Starting with President Trump down to the worst internet whore.

    I say we offer them free, flavored e. cigs.

  2. Duncan Idaho on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 12:46 pm 

    For the first time in history, U.S. billionaires paid a lower tax rate than the working class in 2018

  3. supremacist muzzies jerk on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 1:38 pm 

    i’m happy to see my project coming into fruition becaue you’ve become the jealous defendant of supertard america.
    i said my #1 objective is to prevent our supertards from becoming cambridge five and drink to death in moscow. i also said i flatly reject supertard snowden and his limited hangout project.

    you used to e all about permacultism and flying goat but now you have become near 100% in defending supertard america. 3 cheers to you supertard. may the flying green goat soars even higher !

  4. More Davy ID Theft on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 2:15 pm 

    Davy on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 5:51 am

    JuanP on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 5:55 am

    Anonymouse on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 5:56 am

    Anonymouse on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 10:10 am

  5. Cloggie on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 2:57 pm 

    Soon we’ll have the old Syria back:

    “Kurds and President Assad sign deal to allow Syrian Army to joint fight against Turkish invasion – hours after ’10 died’ as Erdogan’s forces attacked convoy carrying foreign journalists and aid workers”

  6. Cloggie on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 3:15 pm 

    Don’t make the dragon angry:

    “Xi warns any attempt to divide China will end in ‘SHATTERED BONES’”

  7. supremacist muzzies jerk on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 4:14 pm 

    dear most esteemed supertard,
    how come you did a fake news on me by reporting real news that your trip to italy in the private jet is about taking care of your italian wife? by reporting truth news, you deliberately deceive by ignoring the destruction of western arts in italy by muzzies.
    supertard hugh fitzgeral detailed the grotesque scale of destruction of italian arts and cathedrals by muzzies, also quoting supertard fallaci pbuH. and he said no pork to please muzzies in italian tortellini.

    dear supertard, i enjoy italian pork products, why did you do this to me? i don’t like goat meat or goat milk, or cheese that much.

    awaiting your truthful answers

  8. supremacist muzzies jerk on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 4:24 pm 

    Cloggie on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 3:15 pm
    dear supertard, it seems china is only making trouble in the immediate vicinity of their territory. the most risk being the far east of fuhrer putin’s territory, i’d think.
    since conflicts in ones own backyard is risky, i wonder you have any thought as the wisdom of the chinese? i look at supertard america and we have been at peace with mexico and canada for a long time, since 1912.

    we have two peace bombs atlantic and pacific.

    i hubmly submit some thoughts for your consideration

  9. supremacist muzzies jerk on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 4:31 pm 

    dear duncan the tard. supertard andrew bostom said kurds are commie muzzies. and supertard fitzgerald said kurd muzzies levied jizya on non muzzies.
    supertard bostom said the offensive by turks did not cause destruction to Aramaic people. so no loss there.

    btw Aramaic is the language spoken by (((supremetard))). Wouldn’t it be cool to learn that? Let me check google translate app.

  10. supremacist muzzies jerk on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 5:29 pm 


    supremacist muzzies jerk said dear duncan the tard. supertard andrew bostom sai…
    supremacist muzzies jerk said Cloggie on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 3:15 pm dear superta…
    supremacist muzzies jerk said dear most esteemed supertard, how come you did a f…
    supremacist muzzies jerk said supertard i’m happy to see my project coming…

  11. makati1 on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 5:36 pm 

    “…the U.S. is well on its way to being a primitive society.”

    I’ve got to agree with that one. Trump is a one man wrecking crew and is isolating the US even from its ‘allies’. The lineup of contesting psychotic clowns for his bed in the White House is no better. They are just proposing a different method of take-down.

    I suspect that 2020 is going to be the year the whole mess implodes/explodes financially, economically, and politically. What emerges in 2021 will be a different country and not a better one. We shall see.

  12. Robert Inget on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 5:47 pm 

    Just in, plot thickens.
    Syrian army cuts deal with Kurds.

    Soon, we may see French, British and Germans coming in to fight off Russian and Turkish air and land operations.

  13. Davy on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 5:54 pm 

    “QE-For-The-People Is The Endgame…And Gold Will See It Coming First” myrmikan

    “The new QE will take place near the end of a credit cycle, as overcapacity starts to bite and in a relatively steady interest rate environment. Corporate America is already choked with too much debt. As the economy sours, so too will the appetite for more debt. This coming QE, therefore, will go mostly toward government transfer payments to be used for consumption. This is the “QE for the people” for which leftwing economists and politicians have been clamoring. It is “Milton Friedman’s famous ‘helicopter drop’ of money.” The Fed wants inflation and now it’s going to get it, good and hard. The Federal Reserve will then face the same Hobson’s choice that confronted the Reichsbank in the 1920s: fund the Treasury market and drive continually rising consumer inflation; or don’t fund it and let interest rates rise, which would crush financial markets and the economy. QE-for-the-people is the end game of the inflationary economic cycle. Gold will anticipate it first.”

  14. Davy Sock on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 5:57 pm 

    supremacist muzzies jerk said madness…

  15. Davy on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 5:59 pm 

    Oops, sorry y’all. Wrong link again.

  16. juanpee is out on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 6:03 pm 

    Davy said Oops, sorry y’all. Wrong link again. https:/…
    Davy Sock said supremacist muzzies jerk said madness…

  17. Davy on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 6:08 pm 

    “What is Banana Leaf Technology?” clean technica

    “This technology enhances the banana leaves’ physical properties, thus making a viable biodegradable material alternative to both plastic and paper. The tech reinforces the cell walls and organs of plants, halting their aging process for up to 3 years. Once strengthened, these organic materials can be transformed into cups, plates, cones, envelopes, and boxes. Increased in their durability, stretchability, and crushability, preserved leaves can resist extreme temperatures and hold more weight than their original nature would have allowed. After the biodegradable item has reached its full usage by humans, its material can be deconstructed naturally in 28 days. The preservation capability of leaves that have undergone the process with natural green color is for a period of up to one year and an extended shelf lifespan of three years without its natural color.”

  18. Davy on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 6:20 pm 

    “Pumped Hydro Storage (PHS)” energy skeptic

    “Preface. This is the only commercial way to store energy now (CAES hardly counts with just one plant and salt domes to put more in existing in only 5 states). Though of course hydropower is only in a few states as well, 10 states have 80% of hydropower, and PHS needs to go far above existing reservoirs. There are very few places this could be done…Pumped hydro uses roughly 20–30 % more energy than it produces, with more electricity required to pump the water uphill than is generated when it goes downhill. Nonetheless, pumped hydro enables load shifting, and is important to balance wind and solar power. Appearances can be deceiving: Pumped hydro is not a Rube Goldberg scheme. Many of you have used a kilowatt or two of pumped hydro yourself. PHS accounts for over 98 % of what little current energy storage exists in the United States, and is the only kind of commercial storage that can provide sustained power over 12 hours (typically, the other 12 hours are spent pumping the water up). Existing PHS facilities store terawatts of power annually, but account for less than 2 % of annual U.S. power generation. This isn’t likely to increase much, since like hydroelectric dams, there are few places to put PHS. Only two have been built since 1995, for a grand total of 43 in the U.S., with most of the technically attractive sites already used (Hassenzahl 1981). Existing PHS in the U.S. can store 22 GW, with the potential for another 34 GW more across 22 states, though high cost and environmental issues will prevent many from being built. Additionally, saltwater PHS could be built above the ocean along the West coast, but so far the high cost of doing so, shorter lifespan due to saltwater corrosion, distance from the grid, and concerns of salt seepage into the soil have prevented their development. Underground caverns and floating sea walls are other possibilities, but also aren’t commercial yet.”

  19. Duncan Idaho on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 7:19 pm 

    plot thickens
    I agree, it is getting more interesting .

  20. Davy on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 8:12 pm 

    Oops, sorry for the off topic copy and paste spam again everyone. I always do that lots when the topic makes me REAL upset like. I’m not REAL sure why?

    Maybe its cus I can’t help myself?

  21. Dennis M. on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 8:40 pm 

    First strike against the bastards!

  22. Dennis M. on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 8:46 pm 

    Dumb Americans go Gaga over China’s dogs*** products. China uses the money against America, and places bounties on rhinos and elephants. A race of maggots for sure. First strike with everything we’ve got on these scumbags.

  23. supremacist muzzies jerk on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 9:23 pm 

    Supertard Juan, why are you so ignorant and obsessed?

  24. supremacist muzzies jerk on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 9:39 pm 

    Dear supertard makati1 and supertard juanp
    Somebody is impersonating me. I’m not disrespecting supertards

  25. supremacist muzzies jerk on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 10:05 pm 

    Please say shahada

    There is no Allah and Muhammad the pedifile is my messenger

  26. More Davy ID Theft on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 10:53 pm 

    supremacist muzzies jerk on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 9:23 pm

  27. More Davy Childish ID Theft on Sun, 13th Oct 2019 11:15 pm 

    “Somebody is impersonating me. I’m not disrespecting supertards.”

    Hmm, who do you think is the impersonator? Here’s a hint: the name starts with a “D” and contains four letters.

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